Jews, Christians, Muslims
Due Feb 16th
4 pages, double spaced, 12-point
Each essay must have
- a clearly-stated thesis as the last sentence of the introductory paragraph. Please italicize your thesis. It should be a one-sentence summary of your overall claim.
- Subsequent paragraphs that support your thesis. Use direct quotations and analyze them in your own words as one kind of evidence.
- Reference to at least one class reading. It need not be a long analysis.
Excellent essays will:
Demonstrate understanding of the textual cultures of Judaism, Christianity, and/or Islam
Show knowledge of beliefs or values associated with religious communities
Show close textual reasoning and analysis
Use cultural knowledge and multiple perspectives to think critically and analyze text
Present a thesis that is clearly articulated and appropriately limited in scope
Avoid unwarranted generalizations
Quote directly from the text and analyze those quotations
What follows are two different Biblical translations and commentaries on Leviticus 18:22, the verse most commonly cited when people discuss Biblical “claims” about homosexuality. They are commentaries on two different translations, and aimed at two different communities. The first is a fundamentalist Christian commentary, and the second is a Jewish commentary.
For your essay, consider the questions: What are the differences? Why are there differences? Why do different hermeneutical lenses give us different interpretations?
One fundamentalist commentary translates the verse as:
“Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”
The commentary accompanying it explains:
Verse 22 is a clear prohibition against homosexuality. The Living Bible [a “plain-English” translation] puts it more clearly as: “Homosexuality is absolutely forbidden, for it is an enormous sin.” The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in itself is enough of an indication as to what God thinks about homosexuality. But years ago I read in a Dutch Christian newspaper that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing to do with homosexuality. It was gang-rape that had brought down God’s wrath upon the cities, the article said. The Bible did not condemn homosexuality, it said. The article was an effort to accommodate Biblical teaching to the morality of our times. The interesting part of this effort is that people who reject the authority of the Bible would appeal to the Bible for the justification of certain perversions in our present society. Evidently the Bible sometimes does have use “for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” It is clear, however, that God calls homosexuality “detestable” and, so far, I have not read of any effort by theologians to circumvent this verse. It has only been ignored.
Why is homosexuality detestable? If heterosexual relations in the context of a marriage express the spiritual relationship between God and man, which Jesus describes as “worship in spirit and in truth,” then what does homosexual relations express?
First of all, a homosexual relation can never be legal in the sense that a normal marriage is legal, in spite of any laws that are passed. Legality is important because it expresses the legal basis of our relationship with God, which is expressed in the covenant He made with man.
Secondly, homosexuality denies the difference between male and female. In the spiritual realm this means that man presents himself as “male” in his relationship with God and thus he denies his role in this relationship. This is detestable to God, who wants our surrender to Him in love; He is not interested in “gay rights.”
If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he has lost sight of all relationships. In doing this man, throws overboard all his dignity as bearer of God’s image; he is only out to satisfy his sexual urges. In modern times people have started to experiment with taboos, but even this perversion is, at least not yet, officially accepted. More than anything else this kind of conduct is detestable.
The Jewish commentary translates the verse as:
“Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.”
The commentary says:
Biblical and ancient Near Eastern culture was not familiar with homosexuality in the sense of a defined sexual orientation or lifestyle (according to the biblical evidence, David and Jonathan had no relationship). It acknowledges only the occasional act of male anal intercourse, usually as an act of force associated with humiliation, revenge, or subjection (for the biblical examples, see Genesis 19.4-5; Judges 19.22). Of the biblical legal collections only the Holiness source mentions it (here and in 20.13), declaring it to be an abominable act and a capital offense. It seems that the Holiness source views all sexual acts that are not potentially procreative as aberrant.
[For your information: The “Holiness source” is recognized by biblical scholars as one of the sources of legal codes in the bible. Members of religious communities who believe the historical critical method is acceptable—Catholics, liberal Protestants, and most Jews, among others—recognize the Holiness source as one part of the biblical tradition.]
The Qur’an and Genesis contain many similar themes and motifs in their accounts of creation. Yet some evangelical and almost all fundamentalists Christian bible-readers arrive at an interpretation very different from those of Muslims. (Jews and other Christians also have differing ways of interpreting Genesis in comparison with modern science. Catholics, for instance, largely believe in scientific estimates of the age of the earth and read Genesis as using figurative language.)
Here are translations of the relevant scriptural passages. Following the Qur’anic verses is an excerpt from how one Muslim interprets the passages. Following the Genesis verse is an excerpt from how one fundamentalist Christian interprets the passages. Neither of these is “official”—in fact, you could encounter either on the internet!—but they are both representative of the types of reading that are acceptable within their respective religious communities.
For your essay, consider the questions: What are the differences? Why are there differences? Why do different hermeneutical lenses give us different interpretations?
“Allah created the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, in six days” (7:54).
“The heavens and the earth were joined together as one before [Allah] clove them asunder” (21:30)
“Verily in the heavens and the earth are signs for those who believe. And in the creation of yourselves, and the fact that animals are scattered (through the earth), are signs for those of assured faith. And in the alternation of night and day, and that fact that Allah sends down sustenance from the sky, and revives therewith the earth after its death, and in the change of the winds, are signs for those who are wise” (45:3-5).
One example of the harmony between the Qur’an and modern science is the subject of the age of the universe. Cosmologists estimate the age of the universe as 16-17 billion years. The Qur’an states that the entire universe was created in six days. These two time frames, which may seem contradictory, are actually surprisingly compatible. In fact, both these figures concerning the age of the universe are correct. In other words, the universe was created in six days, as revealed in the Qur’an, and this period corresponds to 16-17 billion years in the way that we experience time.
In 1915 Einstein proposed that time was relative, that the passage of time altered according to space, the speed of the person travelling and the force of gravity at that moment. Bearing in mind these differences in the passage of time, the period of time in which the universe was created as revealed in seven different verses of the Qur’an is actually highly compatible with scientists’ estimations. The six-day period revealed in the Qur’an can be thought of as six periods. Because, taking into account the relativity of time, a “day” refers only to a 24-hour period experienced on Earth under current conditions. Elsewhere in the universe, however, at another time and under other conditions, a “day” could refer to a much longer period of time. Indeed, the word “ayyamin” in the period of six days in these verses (Qur’an 32:4, 10:3, 11:7, 25:59, 57:4, 50:38, and 7:54) means not only “days,” but also “age, period, moment, term.”
In the first period of the universe, the passage of time took place much faster than that with which we are familiar today. The reason for this is that, at the moment of the Big Bang, our universe was compressed into a very small point. The expansion of the universe and increase in its volume ever since the moment of that explosion has extended the borders of the universe to millions of light years. Indeed, the stretching of space ever since that moment has had very important ramifications for universal time.
The energy at the moment of the Big Bang slowed down the flow of time 1012 (one million million) times. When the universe was created the speed of universal time was higher up to a million million times, as time is experienced today. In other words, a million million minutes on Earth is the equivalent of just one minute in universal time.
When a six-day period of time is calculated according to the relativity of time, it equates to six million million (six trillion) days. That is because universal time flows a million million times faster than time on Earth. Calculated in terms of years, 6 trillion days equates to approximately 16.427 billion years. This is within the estimated range for the age of the universe.
A Christian fundamentalist translates the Genesis 1 like this:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.
6Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. 8And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.
9 Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. 10And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13So the evening and the morning were the third day.
14Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; 15and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
20 Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” 21So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23So the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
24Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”; and it was so. 25 And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. 30Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. 31Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
The Christian fundamentalist’s commentary says:
If the days of creation are really geologic ages of millions of years, then the gospel message is undermined at its foundation because it puts death, disease, thorns, and suffering before the Fall. The effort to define “days” as “geologic ages” results from an erroneous approach to Scripture—reinterpreting the Word of God on the basis of the fallible theories of sinful people.
It is a good exercise to read Genesis 1 and try to put aside outside influences that may cause you to have a predetermined idea of what the word “day” may mean. Just let the words of the passage speak to you.
Taking Genesis 1 in this way, at face value, without doubt it says that God created the universe, the earth, the sun, moon and stars, plants and animals, and the first two people within six ordinary (approximately 24-hour) days. Being really honest, you would have to admit that you could never get the idea of millions of years from reading this passage.
Romans 3:4 [A New Testament passage] declares: “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” In every instance where someone has not accepted the “days” of creation to be ordinary days, they have not allowed the words of Scripture to speak to them in context, as the language requires for communication. They have been influenced by ideas from outside of Scripture. Thus, they have set a precedent that could allow any word to be reinterpreted by the preconceived ideas of the person reading the words. Ultimately, this will lead to a communication breakdown, as the same words in the same context could mean different things to different people.
Most church fathers accepted the days of creation as ordinary days. It is true that some of the early church fathers did not teach the days of creation as ordinary days—but many of them had been influenced by Greek philosophy, which caused them to interpret the days as allegorical. They reasoned that the creation days were related to God’s activities, and God being timeless meant that the days could not be related to human time. In contrast to today’s allegorizers, they could not accept that God took as long as six days. Thus, the non-literal days resulted from extrabiblical influences (i.e., influences from outside the Bible), not from the words of the Bible.
If we are prepared to let the words of the language speak to us in accord with the context and normal definitions, without being influenced by outside ideas, then the word for “day” found in Genesis 1—which is qualified by a number, the phrase “evening and morning” and for Day 1 the words “light and darkness”—obviously means an ordinary day (about 24 hours).